(Pocket-lint) - As we roll into 2015, Panasonic is first out of the camera announcement gates with the unveiling of its latest travel zoom, the Lumix TZ70, which is bursting at the seams with features.
Due on the shelves this March, Pocket-lint got a sneak peek of the pocketable camera back in 2014. Is it the all-encompassing compact to beat, and how does it fare as an update to the ongoing TZ series?
In 2014 we were introduced to the TZ60, the all-seeing, all-doing compact camera. But despite being decent, it tried to do a touch too much for its £349 price point. Yes it had the built-in electronic viewfinder in addition to its 3-inch screen, but the finder wasn't exceptional in operation, while the significant range of the 30x optical zoom lens was limited towards its maximum zoom.
Enter the Lumix TZ70 and, at first glance, it looks much like the TZ60 before it. For good reason: it has the same 24-720mm equivalent zoom lens in tow. All useful for wide-angle and far-away shots from the one product, just as before, but you might be wondering why this year's model is the one to beat.
The most major change comes in form of the electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic TZ70 benefits from the drip-feed of tech trickling down from the upper tiers, with its 0.2in finder panel graced with a 1,160k-dot resolution - that's a lot more pixel-packed than the 200k-dot unit in the TZ60. There's also an eye-level sensor for automatic switching between rear screen and finder if you wish, making for much swifter use when raising the camera to the eye.
But those spec points don't necessarily make as big a difference as it could. The viewfinder is still small in scale, making it a little fussy to use, and there's lag in low light too.
The rear screen is what we predominantly used during our test time at Ham House and Gardens in Richmond, London, which gave an accurate view of what we were framing. This 3-inch panel also gets a resolution boost, up to 1,040k-dot from the 920k-dot of last year's model. But it's not a touchscreen, which we would much prefer over the built-in viewfinder.
Which we still find to be an oddity: in 2013 the Lumix TZ40 offered an ample 20x optical zoom, no viewfinder and a touch-sensitive screen. It felt like the ideal balance of what a pocketable travel zoom camera should be. Two generations on and the TZ line feels like a different beast, one that may cram in all the features including the kitchen sink, but that doesn't gel quite so well.
Saying that, we can't be hyper critical of how the Lumix TZ70 functions because it works so well. There's a front lens control ring which, despite feeling lightweight and somewhat plasticky much like the rest of the design, is great to control the zoom lens or manual focus if you want it.
The autofocus system is really swift too, snapping subjects into focus in little time. Even as the sun dipped below the clouds on the cold winter's afternoon when we were using the camera, it maintained a good performance. This is Panasonic's calling card: super-fast autofocus that comes with a number of user-adjustable modes to ensure focus is possible wherever you want on screen, or based on face detection and subject.
Until, that is, you push the 30x zoom to the max. Literally. At its 720mm equivalent the autofocus just isn't as swift as when the lens is in the middle of its zoom range, which limits the overall performance. It's not bad, it's just spilling into the realms of over-adventurous when a 20x optical zoom and smaller scale - a la TZ40 - was spot on.
In context, though, the Panasonic is reacting to its competitors, and ensuring it's a step ahead. We might bemoan the 30x zoom, but if that's what sells the camera then, hey, that's what sells it. And performance wise, having used all the nearest competitors, including the Canon PowerShot SX700, it's Panasonic that remains king of the travel zoom sector in our view. And yet the also-announced Lumix TZ57 may cater for all your shooting needs, touchscreen included, without the cost associated with a viewfinder.
Under the hood there's a fairly hidden change too, as Panasonic has finally retreated in the megapixel race. Last year's 18.1-megapixel TZ60 didn't better the Canon SX700 in image quality terms in our view, so this year's TZ70 drops the resolution to 12.1-megapixels for larger "pixels" to capture more light, the idea being to produce better quality images.
Some additional tweaks should mean improvements to low-light performance, plus there's a new maximum sensitivity of ISO 6400. We snapped some shots, but as this preview is based on a pre-production model we weren't able to take them away with us and any comment wouldn't reflect final firmware and product anyway.
Our prediction, however, is thus: the Lumix TZ70 will produce images a little better than the TZ60, firmly cementing it as the travel zoom compact camera to watch.
Other improvements see 1080p video captured at 60 or 50 frames per second (but no ultra-high definition 4K this time), 5-axis image stabilisation and improved built-in Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi system has been updated, meaning direct sharing without the need to sign-in to Lumix Club. Yay.
All in all, if you're after a top travel zoom that's pocketable then there are no better all-round capable options than the Panasonic Lumix TZ70. Yes, we'd rather it had a touchscreen, larger viewfinder (or none at all), and pulled back on the mega-zoom for the sake of a smaller scale. But then there's the Lumix TZ57 to cater for that.
Sounds appealing? The Panasonic Lumix TZ70 will go on sale this March, priced £349.